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Josh Heupel Q&A
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OU quarterback coach talks about Sam Bradford, OU QBs
As Josh Heupel begins his fifth season as OUís quarterbacks coach, his reputation as an invaluable mentor and offensive prodigy continues to thrive. The 31-year-old South Dakota native, who as a player helped lead the Sooners to the 2000 national championship, is the perfect complement to offensive coordinator Kevin Wilsonís aggressive up-tempo style.
Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford has described Heupel as being ďinstrumental in his successĒ as a quarterback at OU, and his work with previous Sooner signal callers like Jason White and Paul Thompson has been widely hailed.
With the 2009 season only days away, Heupel sat down with Sooner Spectator to discuss his star pupil, the hype, big expectations and other key aspects of playing quarterback for a perennial powerhouse.
Sooner Spectator: You see Sam Bradford on a daily basis and youíve been in his shoes before ó so what is it that makes him such a success at this level?
Josh Heupel: To try to put it into one or two sentences is probably not giving the kid his due diligence. But I think a lot of it has to do with his character. Heís tough both mentally and physically. Heís extremely hard-working and heís extremely competitive. Because of those characteristics, heís extremely confident in himself as well. I thatís the general makeup of what has allowed him to play successfully back when he was a freshman in a tough situation, to continue to improve as a sophomore and have the season he had last year, and to get better as a junior.
SS: You went through the Heisman hoopla when you were at OU. How much of a distraction can that be and how has Sam handled it?
Heupel: I think it can be a huge distraction for guys who let themselves get caught up in it, especially if thatís a major focus of what they are trying to achieve in the course of a season. But if you are here to win championships, if you are here to become the best player you can possibly be, and you focus on those things on a daily basis, then all of the individual awards and all of those outside things will take care of themselves at the end of the year. And that was what was exciting to see about Sam as a freshman when he played consistent from week to week and got better with each game. As a sophomore, he continued to do the same things, getting better week to week. Even with all of the media attention around him, he continued to stay focused on his preparation which gave him an opportunity to play well on Saturdays.
Once the regular season was over and he had a little down time before the bowl game, then Sam was able to enjoy the fruits of his labor a little bit. But when he came back from the Heisman, there was no one more focused on the task at hand than Sam. That kind of dedication is what allowed us to play at such a high level throughout the season, and why we believe heís going to be even better this year.
SS: So the coaching staff feels Sam can be better than he was in 2008?
Heupel: Sam is better. He was a better player the first day of spring ball than he was at the national championship game. He was much better at the end of spring than he was at the beginning. And heís a better football player now than he was at the end of the spring. Thatís what makes Sam so special, because he continually finds ways to focus in and improve different parts of his game every day. There is no one more excited and attentive in our meetings than Sam, and even with all of the success heís experienced, he continues to find ways to get better. So Iíd say thereís no doubt Sam is a better football player going into this season. Does that mean it will translate into better numbers? You canít predict that because you canít control numbers. And Sam understands this season is not about numbers for him. Itís about him becoming the absolute best football player he can be and itís about us winning a national championship and another conference championship.
SS: A big part of the teamís offensive success, including Samís, will be the rapport he builds with the current group of receivers heíll be throwing to this season. How is that developing?
Heupel: Of course, there are a lot of things that go into a championship-type season. Youíre basically starting over at ground zero the first day of fall camp. But Sam did a great job in the spring and summer of trying to get on the same page with those guys. Weíre continuing to work through that here in fall practice because there are a few guys who are here now who werenít here during the spring. Thatís going to be critical as we progress throughout the season. Hopefully, thatís an area we show improvement in from game to game. We will continue to push to get better at that every single day.
SS: How much confidence does a quarterback get from knowing his offensive line is going to be there to protect him and give him time every single play? And how does that work when you have several new faces working into that equation like OU does this season?
Heupel: Again, Sam understands that individual awards donít come because of one playerís performance. They happen because of a teamís success and the supporting castís overall efforts. In Samís case, for him to drop back and let the ball rip, heís got to be extremely confident in the guys up front. Heís got to trust that they are going to do their jobs and heís got to trust that the guys out wide are going to stick their foot in the ground and break off the route when they are supposed to. Everyone has to be on the same page and get their jobs done to the best of their ability. Thatís what we are really trying to work toward here in camp, so when we go out there against BYU or any team, every part of our offense is ready to go.
SS: Besides all of his talent and work ethic, how important has Samís development as leader with this team been over the last two seasons?
Heupel: As a freshman, itís tough because heís just trying to play the game within the game. As we continued through that season, he had a louder stick, a louder voice with our offense. Last season, is when you really saw Samís ability as a leader take off. A quarter of the way through the season, it was his offense ó and in a lot of respects, his football team. He really became a vocal leader for us. His teammates see the way he handles himself both on and off the football field, and how he prepares himself on a daily basis and they respect that. Now, when he speaks, heís got everyoneís ear and he has a loud stick. He grows in the regard every day at every practice as we move forward, and that will be more evident as the season progresses.
SS: How big of role model is Sam for the other quarterbacks in camp, like Landry Jones and Drew Allen?
Heupel: You canít have anyone better than Sam. For those guys to be able to pick Samís ear and watch how he approaches the game every day. They can ask him what heís seeing, how heís reading certain things and what he does in response to those situations. Honestly, Sam is the best role model you could have.
SS: How have the young QBs been coming along in their development during the spring and fall?
Heupel: Good. They really had a good summer. And while theyíve made some mistakes during fall camp, you kind of expect that with young guys in their situation. But we will continue to push them and they all have great attitudes every day, and they are finding ways to get better every day.
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the August 2009 issue of Sooner Spectator magazine. To read more, go on-line and subscribe, or call toll free 1-877-841-8877)